The thank you note from my cousin’s son for their wedding gift was a message from an electronic invitation service that opened to an arty photo of bride and groom, casually romping on the beach in their wedding garb and bare feet. It did not mention my name, my husband’s, or the gift. Thirty years ago, I chose pretty paper, bought a special pen, and took care with my handwriting. It was important to acknowledge each gift in a specific way. Just last week, I discovered a big chip in a crystal dish, a wedding gift from a friend of my mom’s. It broke my heart. It made me think of this woman’s daring escape from Nazi Germany and remember her and her husband playing bridge with my parents. The form letter made me feel that the bride and groom had wiped their hands of what they considered an oppressive chore. Without taking the time to consider gift and giver, will either truly resonate with them in years to come? Can you please ask newlyweds to rethink thankfulness?
E.S. / Boston
I will, if you’ll rethink a few things, too. That “thank you” was remarkably tacky, if somewhat ingenious, and I’m not about to defend it. (Newlyweds and affianced readers: Don’t even think about doing this.) But enough about them, E.S. Let’s talk about you. You’re an excellent writer with an eye for detail and a knack for connecting images and emotions. However . . . the tacky thank you has no causal connection to the damage to your own wedding gift, to the inevitable passage of time, or to the need to escape from Nazis. You’re loading a lot of symbolism onto a faux pas — more than it can hold. And you can’t know the psychological state of the bride and groom. You sneer at their “arty” photo while cherishing the memory of your special stationery. Why is their aestheticism less respectable than yours? You have the mind of an artist, and that’s a mixed blessing. Trust me, I know. Write more about this issue. Talk about it with friends you trust. Get control over your ability, so that you can see the interconnectedness of imagery and themes when you want to but can pull back and look objectively at the facts of a situation, too.
When visiting, my father-in-law constantly reprimands my children for putting their napkins in their laps before grace. Is that an etiquette breach?
C.C. / Medford
It’s a rather severe one. One never critiques the table manners of one’s hosts, which the children, technically, are in this scenario. Nor does one discipline the children of others. Since you have presumably taught the children their table manners, it is terribly rude to both parent and child to undermine the parent’s authority. Finally, your father-in-law is simply wrong. You put your napkin in your lap when you sit down. You don’t say grace standing up with your napkins tucked into your belts like loincloths, do you? If so, I can see giving the kids a heads-up that this isn’t standard operating procedure, though not berating them for it.
Oh, wait, did you mean are your children committing an etiquette breach?
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.Mad at your relatives for their transgressions? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at firstname.lastname@example.org.